Illegal IDs

A look inside the document fraud business through the eyes of a counterfeiter

The setup of the operation took two to three weeks. The first day E.B. was in business he had about 10 customers. He charged $150 for a green card and Social Security card together, $100 for a Mexican driver's license, and $125 for an international driver's license. As his operation grew, he increased the types of documents he offered.

E.B. offered some insight into the increased demand for counterfeit Mexican Matricula Consular cards.

The Matricula is an identification card issued by various Mexican consulates in the United States. The card is intended to be a reliable identification document for Mexican nationals living abroad. By obtaining this card, more than 100 banks nationwide will accept it as identification for opening checking and savings accounts. Once a person opens an account, he is able to obtain Visa check cards and, in some instances, credit cards.

Running the operation
As with any other business, customers are needed in order to make sales. E.B. says that selling fake IDs is like selling drugs. He had to hire workers or "runners" to solicit business on the streets. The runners are other illegal aliens looking for work. He only hired illegal aliens because he knew they would not go to the police for fears of being turned in to immigration and deported.

According to E.B., the best area to find customers is where day laborers would gather looking for work. The laborers know the contractors who pick them up might want to make a copy of their green card and Social Security card so it looks like they are not breaking any laws by hiring illegal aliens.

On many occasions, contractors solicited the runners themselves in order to get numerous fake cards for their employees.

E.B.'s crew usually set up shop about one or two blocks from the laborers. Once they established an area, the runners would have no trouble finding customers. Upon being approached by a potential customer, the runner would direct them to the nearest business that offered passport-size photographs.

The runner would explain what color background was required and how the person needed to be standing when the photo was taken. Usually, the background color was white making it easier to edit when E.B. scanned the photo.

The runner advised the customer to bring the money and photographs back to the location. When the customer returned, the runner asked him what information he wanted to appear on the card, such as name, date of birth, etc.

Once the runner had the photos, money and information, he advised the customer to come back in an hour and his cards would be ready. The runner would then take everything to E.B. to be printed.

The customer was never invited to the location where the documents were being printed. All transactions were at the street level. Since the customers never saw where the documents were being made, it made it much harder for law enforcement to locate the operation. The only weak link in the operation would be the runners.

To make sure the runners knew as little as possible, E.B. never let them see the area where he was printing the documents.

E.B. admits when it came to things like Social Security Numbers or green card numbers he typically made them up. He says operations printing high quality cards go one step further in obtaining information. They go into the community and find legal residents of similar background and use their information. This includes name, date of birth, Social Security Number, etc. Then, when law enforcement runs this information through a computer system, it comes up valid.

With technology playing such an important role in today's law enforcement, officers rely too heavily on computer searches without paying close attention to the identification document itself.

In an example provided by E.B., the officer being presented with a counterfeit ID containing the information of another person would need to carefully scrutinize the document in order to deduce that the person in front of him was an imposter and the identification fake.

Initiating an investigation
Conducting investigations into the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit identification documents is not much different than a narcotics investigation.

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